The explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 miners and introduced the country to a caricature of a heartless CEO, Massey Energy’s Don Blankenship (who just last week announced his retirement). If ever there was a moment for forward progress on workplace health and safety, it was in the wake of the Massey tragedy. The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act would modestly increase the size of fines for endangering workers, make it a felony to cause the death of a worker by knowingly violating safety rules, protect whistleblowers who call attention to workplace hazards, and deter employers from delaying resolution of citations for violations of workplace health and safety rules. But the business lobby has prevented the bill from moving ahead.
Nevertheless, the House will be voting on the Byrd Mine Safety bill tomorrow afternoon. Call your Congressman if you are concerned about mine safety and tell them to vote for this bill.
Today, December 8, 2010, Congressional lawmakers left workers in the dust when they failed to pass critical mine safety legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 214-193 not to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 6495), which would have empowered the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to protect workers from unsafe workplaces, prosecute corporate bad actors and close dangerous mines.
This year saw several high-profile workplace tragedies, from the 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon to the Tesoro refinery explosion in Washington state. The most deadly disaster occurred in April; 29 mine workers were killed when the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded. These deaths were preventable and illustrate the dire need for the increased worker protections that this legislation would have provided.
The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act would have addressed shortcomings in MSHA’s enforcement authority and allowed it to respond quickly to accidents, withdraw miners from unsafe mines, and prosecute and collect fines from operators of mines with bad safety records. Lawmakers failed to recognize that workers should not have to risk their lives needlessly to earn a living.
For those who contacted their Congressman, thank you for your efforts. Although the bill faces a much bleaker fate under the Republican-led House, Public Citizen calls on Congress to re-introduce the legislation in its next session – and to include protections for all workers.
By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.